A gulf is a big chasm, one that lays between the rich and the poor. When it comes to wealth inequality, the gulf of Siam is the largest in the world.
Bangkok is a city where you may chill on a fancy high-rise balcony bar, at a building as luxurious as any you would find in this world, and look down… only to see a slum as poor as any in this world.
This is a city where you may be stuck at an intersection, surrounded by outrageously priced super-cars… and yet see street urchins in rags selling garlands and flowers. Go outside of Bangkok, and you’ll realize that everywhere else in the country, safe for luxury hotels and mansions of the wealthy, is very much the developing world.
So, when the Global Wealth Index 2018 put Thailand as the number one country with the highest wealth inequality in the world… well, it’s merely a matter of suspicion confirmed by empirical evidence.
According to the Index, the wealthiest 1% of Thailand owns 66.9% of the country’s entire wealth, up from 58% in 2016. Thank you, Uncle Tuu.
Coming in at second place is Russia, where the wealthiest 1% owns 57.1% of the country’s total wealth. In 2016, Russia was number one, with the 1% owning 78% of wealth. Thank you, Uncle Putin, for letting us have first place. Rounding off the top four are Turkey and India, with the 1% owning 54.1% and 51.5% respectively. Thank you, Uncle Erdogen and Uncle Modi.
Other than these four countries, no other nation on God’s decaying earth has the 1% owning more than half of the country’s wealth. On the opposite spectrum are Belgium and Australia, with the 1% owning 20.1% and 22.4% of total wealth respectively. Thank you, Uncle Michel and Uncle Morrison.
Many are blaming Uncle Tuu for the nation’s wealth inequality. But that’s not entirely fair. Uncle Tuu didn’t start it, he only makes it worse. The dishonor of winning the number one spot on global wealth inequality has taken decades of hard work and dedication by successive governments and economic elites. Call a spade a spade and spread the blame.
The question is, how did this happen? No doubt, there are many theories, but here’s one. It’s a simple equation. You take the deeply entrenched Thai patronage system, add that to unchecked capitalism, take it to the power of populist policies, and voila, the highest wealth inequality in the world.
Political elites come up with a populist policy to give out free sim cards and free six-month usage to 14-million poor folks.
14 million sim cards. 14 million poor folks. 50-baht service fee per poor folk each month. That’s 700 million-baht per month for six months. That’s a total of 4.2-billion baht for the entire shenanigan.
Where does the 4.2-billion baht come from? Taxpayers.
Where does the 4.2-billion baht go to? Economic elites who own the telecom industry.
What do the political elites get in return? Gratitude from 14-million poor folks that might translate into votes. And may be also a little “something-something” from the economic elites for “helping a brother out”. But of course, not with the current crop of political elites. They are as clean and shiny as a Richard Mille watch.
What do the poor folks get? Free internet for six months.
Capitalism is an economic system with the goal of acquiring as much wealth as possible. Patronage is a social system where a network, or a tribe, pursues as much wealth as possible for its own group.
Put the two together, and we have the sum of: acquiring as much wealth as possible… for us. Not for the people. Not for society. Not for the country. But for us (puag goo, พวกกู).
This is an example of how the 1% came to own over half the country’s wealth.
Can everyone else catch up? Well, with the recent 500-baht government handout, poor folks are 500 baht closer to catching up to the all the “tao-gaa” and “chao-sua”.
It’s a tight race, ain’t it?
It’s important to see how inequality is measured in the study from 2018 Credit Suisse Wealth Databook which puts Thailand first. Essentially three yardsticks are used: income; assets; and opportunities. Assets in Thailand such as shopping malls, condominium complexes, land, etc. etc are really not taxed to the degree they should. If you look at the assets of the top 10 families in Thailand ( mostly Thai-Chinese) you can see HUGE inequity there. Then we need to look at ‘ opportunities’ ………. the combination of a woeful education system, graft, and nepotism means that the son of a poor farmer in Isaan has not a hope in hell of ever getting a good middle class job. The Thai Government needs to take on the assets of the big boys with serious tax and radically alter the school curricula and the access of schooling to all. So it is useful to deconstruct the elements that go into inequality. ‘Income’ is only a small part of it.
First of all I refer to the excellent comment by Pat Hennessy and his attempt to deconstruct the causes of inequality. I personally do not believe that the present regime is interested to raise the quality of education in Thailand because it is easier to “govern” an ignorant populous than an educated one. The only Thais who seem to get a reasonable education are the offspring of the wealthy who send their children to expensive private schools.
Then,what disturbs the visitor to Bangkok is the outward show of super expensive motor cars, and the offerings by the five star hotels of Christmas and New Year Dinners dinners for 10,000 – 30,000 Baht. School teachers earn 15,000 Baht per month to my knowledge so I find this situation quite grotesque. Future governments should raise the quality of teaching by raising the competence of the teachers and their miserable pay.